Excerpt from Laird of the Wind

   
Scotland, the Lowlands
February, 1305
 
     A flash of light, then darkness as the vision began. Isobel, through closed eyes, saw a man emerge from the shadows. Tall, wide-shouldered, cloaked like a pilgrim, he moved with the easy grace of a warrior. On his gloved fist, he supported a hawk. Mist whirled, and he was gone.
     She frowned at the haunting image. She knew nothing of this man.
     "Isobel?" Her father's voice was hushed. John Seton's only child, the heiress to his property of Aberlady, sat waiting for another prophecy to come to her, and he respected that. "What do you see?"
     She shook her head in silence. Had she opened her eyes, she would not have seen the bowl on the table with the gleaming water surface that had sparked the vision. Nor would she have seen the stone walls of the chamber, or the fire in the hearth, or the three men who watched her so intently. She was blind.
     Her prophetic visions always took her earthly sight for a little while—an hour or longer, even a day or so. She waited on sheer faith for her sight to return, hoping it would.
     More images formed, faces and scenes, and words came to her then. "Treachery," she said. "Murder."
     The men murmured to each other—her father, her priest, her betrothed. "What sort of treachery, Isobel?" her father asked.
     "What do you see, Isobel?" Sir Ralph Leslie—her father's choice for her husband, and her father's friend—had a pleasant voice. He moved heavily, a powerfully built man, and she could hear the hawk, which he had brought with him, chirr on its perch in a corner of the room.
     "Stay back, Ralph," John Seton murmured. "Let Father Hugh and I question her. And keep your hawk quiet. That bird has a poor temper."
     Isobel listened quietly, eyes closed. She had been betrothed to Leslie at Whitsunday, and this was the first time that Sir Ralph had witnessed her speaking prophecy. She dimly realized that he was not sure how to behave during the session. She had not wanted him present—much less wanted the betrothal—but her father and the priest had decided, as they often did, over her.
     She frowned, eyes rolling under her lids as she focused on the rapid images across the dark field of her inner vision. "I see an eagle flying over Scottish hills," she said. "Hawks pursue the eagle," she continued. Her visions often blended real and symbolic. The birds must be metaphors. Then understanding flooded through her.
     "They are men," she said quickly. "Hawk of the tower, hawk of the forest, and others. Southrons and Scots both, come to take a man, the eagle, in treachery. He is a leader they fear and would stop." She heard a hawk call out—kee, kee, kee-eer—but the sound was not from Sir Ralph's hunting bird. The men around her were silent.
     "A gray goshawk on a gloved fist," she said, describing what she saw. "Its master led other men here. Hawk of the tower, hawk of the forest. The eagle is trapped in the middle of the night. He struggles, strong in body and heart."
     She watched as a huge man resisted as others dragged him away. "They accuse him of crimes and intend to kill him. But it is sacrifice—and murder—for their own ends." She saw the man taken away on horseback amid a shower of arrows.
     "The hawk of the forest looses the white feather. He will flee through heather and greenwood."
     "What of the eagle?" her father asked.
     Isobel sucked in a breath against images of cruelty. "His great heart is torn from his breast." She gasped against the disturbing vision. "The English lion claims triumph. The hawk betrayed the eagle, though they were friends. The hawk vanishes into the forest."
     "The English lion—King Edward," Father Hugh murmured, his quill scratching over parchment. "Who are the eagle, the hawk of the tower, the hawk of the forest?"
     She did not know. She felt sad, a terrible sense of betrayal. The strong, brave man—the eagle—would die before autumn.
     And suddenly she knew who he was. Dear Lord, she thought, let me warn him. For once, let me help, not simply foretell. And let me remember—please let me remember this time.
     Usually she forgot her visions, and her father and the priest rarely told her what she had said. They did tell her not to worry over it, and to let them take care of things for her. But she wanted to be involved in her own prophesying. She had first begun to foretell events as a girl, twelve or so years ago, at a time when her father had taken charge of her and her gift. But she was a woman now, and she was not content to let others have control over her visions.
     The priest had spoken of her predictions throughout his parish, and word had spread. She knew that he had written of her to the exiled king of Scotland, John Balliol, and to the men who acted as the Guardians of the realm of Scotland. The English had heard of her prophecies, too.
     She was told that she was a help to the cause of Scotland, and she was glad of that. The visions, and the price she paid, seemed worthwhile to her if the Scottish people benefitted.
     "Isobel, who is the eagle, the man taken?" Father Hugh brought her back to the moment.
     "The rebel leader William Wallace." She did not want to say so, but it was truth. "The English king will butcher the freedom fighter to appease his own anger," she continued. "He will call it righteous justice. Wallace is an eagle among hawks, and he will be betrayed by a hawk."
     She heard Ralph murmur to her father. "Go on, Isobel," John Seton urged.
     Eyes closed, she saw a lovely scene, a goshawk flying above a dense forest. "The laird of the wind," she said quickly, spontaneously. She loved the bird's freedom. "Hawk of the forest."
     "Who is he?" her father and the priest asked together.
     "He has no home, he lives in the forest and flies free." She watched the hawk's soaring flight, then frowned at what she saw next. "Other hawks—other men—hunt him. He flees for his life." She twisted her fingers together. "He betrayed, but not by choice. Now he is betrayed. Oh—treachery!" She gasped against a sense of anguish.
     "Who betrayed whom?" Father Hugh asked. "Tell us what you know."
     She fought tears. The visions did not often pull her into their vortex like this. She felt grief and loneliness as the images flickered in her mind. She saw mist again, and the man in the cloak reappeared, holding a hawk on his gloved fist.
     "A pilgrim," she said. "He has a penance of the heart. He longs for peace."
     "Who is he?" Ralph asked.
     "He is a laird... of the wind."
     "What is that—a hawk? Isobel, make sense," Ralph said impatiently.
     The man in the pilgrim's cloak was tall and strong. He stood alone in the rain, his hand supporting a gray hawk. In the shadow of his hood, she saw a handsome, somber face. Firm featured, yet gentle. Blue eyes, brown hair streaked with gold. She sensed sadness and pain, and she felt bitterness, even rage in him. How could she know his heart so well, and he a stranger?
     He strode through the rain to a hawthorn tree. The bird fluttered to a branch. "A secret," she said. "A hawthorne tree. A hawk," she said.
     "What secret?" Ralph demanded. "What is she talking about?"
     "Ralph, keep quiet," her father growled.
     "All of it is symbolic," Father Hugh said. "I shall study her words carefully. She sees more, look at her expression. Isobel, what is it?"
     She was silent. For the first time in years of prophesying, she saw herself in a vision.
     A woman glided through the rain toward the hawthorn tree. She was tall, slender, wearing a blue gown, black hair streaming like midnight down her back. Stunned, Isobel watched herself and saw the man in the cloak turn and beckon to her.
     Oh, she wanted so much to go to him—the desire was overwhelming. Yet something equally strong held her back. Then the scene faded. She saw stone walls in sunshine, and recognized the walls of her own home, Aberlady Castle. Arrows whined over the battlements. Men shouted. She smelled smoke, and felt cold and hungry.
     "Siege," she whispered. "Siege!"
     The vision disappeared. Dear Lord, let me remember the man, the hawk...
     When she opened her eyes, she was blind.
     
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